Out and about
Enjoying yourself comes pretty naturally to most Montréalers. The city boasts dozens of great bars – as you’d expect with 3.5 million residents – but what sets it apart is that locals seem to know how to have a good night out, especially in The Village.
Montréal has one of the world’s most vibrant gay communities and one of the most tolerant straight population. The rainbow flag flies from just about every building in The Village, a suburb just east of downtown.
Whether you’re gay or straight, the area has a great vibe, with plenty of funky places to hang out including the Sky Pub and Club, which has a huge rooftop terrace complete with a pool and a jacuzzi. Gents: if you’re that way inclined make sure you take your budgie smugglers.
Downtown, around Rue de la Montagne, you’ll find big clubs, pumping DJs, and leggy blondes and blokes that look like they’ve just stepped out of a hair gel commercial.
Uptown is the Latin Quarter, stuffed with stylish bars and restaurants – think Chelsea in London and you’ll get the idea.
Further uptown, along the Avenue du Mont-Royal is the art district with, you guessed it, lots of places to eat and drink, though with a more chilled-out vibe.
It’s worth spending a few dollars sampling the food on offer in Montréal. You can enjoy first-class French cuisine without burning an Eiffel Tower-sized hole in your wallet, à la Paris.
If you only ever have one French meal in Montréal – or in your life – make it at Au Pied de Cochon. It encapsulates everything that is great about French food: quality ingredients that are cooked well.
For not much more than C$20 (about £10), you can try pig’s leg stuffed with foie gras (chicken or duck liver paté), or the poutine (chips, cheese and gravy with foie gras). It may sound disgusting but
it tastes delicious.
Strange but true
Montréalers like to think of themselves as a little bit different from other North Americans. Here are a few events they could use in their defence:
» Raving for kiddies
Like going to raves but can’t stand the long nights? Check out Picnic Electronique, a giant outdoor dance party held every Sunday afternoon in summer at a riverside park. It’s super-popular with old-school ravers who bring their kids, thanks to its onsite crèche.
» Festival mania
Just for Laughs is a famous Montréal event, but it’s just one of the city’s numerous festivals. There are also annual celebrations of jazz, cycling, Africa, French culture, fireworks, gay pride, snow and film, among others, and they’re almost always free.
» On ya bike
The Circuit de Giles Villeneuve hosts the Canadian Formula 1 Grand Prix each June, but for the rest of the year the track is open to the public, and you can hire a bike or rollerblades from one of the outlets around town. Afterwards you can pop into the nearby casino to enjoy one of the 3200 pokies.
» Out of the box
It looks like boxes perched on one another, as though the architect played with too much Lego as a kid, but the most remarkable block of apartments you’ll ever see sits opposite the CBD on the south side of the St Lawrence River.
Canada can get frighteningly cold in winter. But don’t be scared: Montréalers move underground during the cold months. The city has 33km of pedestrian walkways, protected from rain, snow, wind and chill. The subways connect metro stations, offices, post offices, hotels and bars and there are dozens of underground shopping malls.
But if the temperature is mild, wander around the old part of the city and you’ll feel like you’re in Europe.
While uptown looks like a big North American city, Old Montréal, as it’s known, is eerily reminiscent of Paris – so much so that the 19th century buildings and the charming shops and restaurants are used as the backdrop for films set in Paris.
The quiet revolution
It’s hard to fathom how a staircase can be deemed to be sensual, but it was exactly this concern which led Québec’s once all-powerful Catholic church to ban the outdoor circular staircases so common on Montréal’s houses.
Meanwhile, if the parish priest had dared climb the staircase to visit, he’d probably have demanded to know when you were having more kids.
These are just two examples of the massive power and influence wielded by the church in Québec until 1960. But in that year what became known as the Quiet Revolution began.
Québec’s new and forward-thinking government ushered in far-reaching reforms, while the public, particularly those in Montréal became more outward looking and secular.
Almost half a century on, Montréal is now one of the most liberal cities in the world, priding itself on its diversity and tolerance, and embracing public amenities, such as cycle lanes, underground shopping malls and public art.
It’s not as obviously outlandish as Amsterdam or Rio, for example, but still has plenty on offer to indulge your hedonistic side – even if the ban on those shapely staircases wasn’t lifted until the ’90s.
Olympic-sized stuff up
The Olympic Games held in Montréal in 1976 are a textbook lesson in how to stuff things up.
The main stadium looks spectacular, but was a financial and construction nightmare. Here’s why: the Québec Government only finished paying off the debt on it last year; the seats were being installed just hours before the opening ceremony; there was no roof until the giant leaning tower needed to hold it up was finished in 1986 (go figure); the umbrella-style retractable roof didn’t work properly and eventually broke and fell on the ground and a new, permanent roof had to be built.
What’s more, not once did Oh Canada ring out at the games: it is the only host country not to win a gold medal. Oh the ignominy.
The one saving grace is that the view from the top of the leaning tower is stunning.
» Daniel Landon travelled to Montréal with Tourism Montréal (www.tourisme-montreal.org)
» The hills are alive
The Laurentians is a mountainous area just 30 miles north of Montréal and features just about any outdoor activity you can think of, even if it is simply enjoying the beautiful scenery. Here you will find some of North America’s best skiing in winter, while in the warmer months there’s plenty of spots for camping, fishing and cycling.
» Quebec City
This stunning city, the oldest in North America, has been a World Heritage Site since 1985. The walled, old city has countless beautiful buildings and winding streets, giving it the feel of an outdoor museum. It’s the heart of French culture in Québec and home to many fine museums.
Ah, the Canberra of the northern hemisphere. Canada’s capital is unfairly maligned as a soulless administrative centre, but there are plenty of museums, galleries and grand buildings. You might also see a Mountie patrolling
» The first nations
Canada’s First Nations (the term used for the different indigenous groups) have had a tough time over the years. Devastated by European settlement, many still live in desperate poverty despite the billions of dollars in government support. Check out some of their story at the Five Nations Iroquois Village, just 20 minutes from Montréal, which has interesting galleries and reconstructed villages.
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